Annually, 50 million baggage items are checked into the hands of Lufthansa, a German airline. Each month an auction house under contract with the airline sells 300-600 lost items – unopened, and contents unseen – to curious consumers. Under the guise of entertainment, the event parallels a type of blind high-stakes yard sale. Yet once each bag each is won, for typically more than 100€, it becomes a bizarre epitaph for an Unknown Passenger. The artist Lindsay Foster on her work Pos. 278, from which some photographs are shown in this gallery:
»As part of a related project, A Proper Hidden Frenzy, I spent many weekends at these luggage auction affairs. On my last one, in the spirit of full participant observation, I raised my bidding number until I won Pos. 278, a small black and brown shoulder bag – a nice mix of business and leisure, understated elegance from afar and inexpensive detailing up close.
This work engages in the inherent intimacy of owning an unknown person’s packed luggage, while at the same time addresses the psychological distance and evidentiary nature of inspecting such a possession. The bag exudes a presence, an aura of someone I will never meet; it is a shell of potential, a living death, an unhinged referent. I am reminded of Roland Barthes thoughts on photography, that each photograph functions as a memorial, that the very nature of the medium is its illusory bracing of death-in-life. In many ways, Pos. 278 has all of the attributes of photography before introducing the camera, after which there is a sort of doubling, a hope that two deaths-in-life might circle back to something greater.«
The artist`s love letter to the owner of Lost Luggage Pos. 278:
For I moment I doubted the entire premise.
Is Disney Land real, does magic exist, or is the luggage auction a perfect construction –
a simulacra of the believed real;
a parlor game for Euro-heavy middle-management?
A ruse could not be so specific and perfect.
Models could never come this close to simulating you.
I know you through your choices, your smell, your style.
You are a man with genuine desires and latent fears
I imagine that is your name.
You are not a Scott, Allen, or George,
You are a john
John the Baptist
John my ex-boyfriend
John my biological father
The elusive John leaves a trail of regret.
Don’t you miss your fancy shoes?
You took such good care of them
What about your personal water heater?
I’m enchanted by this device in the red shiny case.
It hints at the demure and sexy.
I suppose boiling your own personal water could be hot.
Classic strategy – create mystery, play hard to get.
Let me trace the echoes of your distance.
I discovered your fingerprints on the electric razor.
If only detective work was as simple as crime dramas suggest.
I found hair tangled in your brush – at least I assume it belongs to you.
Your grey hair has a heft that is rare.
You left skin particles too, but the lab would not take me seriously.
They said you would not be identifiable unless you were wanted.
I told them that I want you.
You are a good man, aren’t you.
Not to worry,
there is comfort in our shared vulnerability.
Do you miss your favorite tie?
You left me seven, but I know your favorite.
It is the soiled one.
I picture you eating a hotdog on your last day.
I know because cheap meat leaves an imprint.
I took your glasses to the optometrist.
They said yours are quite generic.
I take issue with that declaration.
The luggage has encased your aura –
earthy yet delicate.
I put my face in your towel, hoping to recognize you.
I look at the dirt left in the sole of your shoe;
You walk where earth is tartly red,
where the sun shines for 12 hours.
I’ve always thought it lonely to holiday alone.
Perhaps you were meeting someone –
a daughter, lover, friend?
Our paths crossed in the confusion of time and space.
Are you still engaged in this pursuit?
Do you continue to wait for a delivery?
Don’t tell me you have replaced your favorite tie.
And why did you have two wallets?
I can’t seem to align this detail.
I thought you were a straightforward man –
gentle, simple, mature.
Is it that you like to match your wallet with your belt with your shoes?
But this is not true, they do not match.
and why were both wallets empty?
Did the airport authorities insert unfairly in our flirtation?
How dare they eliminate clues.
What did they do with your member cards?
Surely your ID was in a third wallet on your body.
You boarded the plane, right?
Are you lost?
Perhaps I am the one who is lost, with your belongings.
I wish on you, John.
I will lay you to rest one day, I promise, but today, I write you.
Please don’t be alarmed.
I will one day think it best that we end this charade.
Your items will then be donated.
Your smell will then be ingrained in my memory.
Your personal water heater will then be in my bag.